Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Christian Affections

Col. 3:1-3

I do not know about you, but I find the events of the past week or two very unsettling. To begin with, the State of New York has legitimized the immoral acts that take place in the bedrooms of those who have opted for the homosexual choice and downgraded marriage in the process. Secondly, the unintended controversy at the SBC added fodder to an already tense situation between evangelicals and those choosing homosexuality as their preferred lifestyle. Finally, I have had at least two conversations with people who describe themselves as Christian, but very, very liberal and open minded as well. There is a misguided assumption that our personal opinions are not subject to the Christian ethic. Christians are subconsciously overlaying the constitution of the United States onto Christianity and unwittingly thinking they have free speech in Christ and are free to hold their own opinions on matters. They are not! Christians do not have freedom of anything, much less freedom of speech. Moreover, both of these people view the Scripture as a product of man rather than God. The abandonment of doctrinal catechism has dubious consequences indeed! Church membership is nothing more than a wink, and a nod today and this in even the most conservative churches so-called. Cultural thinking has disfigured the Christian idea to the extent that it is almost impossible to recognize. Think about the last time you witnessed a rebellious person’s name being read in front of the congregation because they refused to hear God, they refused to hear their brothers, and they refused to hear the church. Rather than confront the lack of Christian affections we see in our midst, we prop them up and encourage rebellious behavior by leading people to believe that somehow God understands their behavior. After all, God sees the heart! You go ahead and reject the commandment of God. He will understand because He knows how much you really do love Him. Or, worse, we simply ignore the sin we see in our midst and in our own life. We do nothing about it. We pretend it isn’t there. We lie to ourselves, saying, God knows my heart. What could be more complicated than a son of an elder, or pastor or major contributor coming out of the closet? What about the children of an elder, pastor, deacon, or major contributor who are members of the church, but whose lives are completely out of accord with Scripture? There are two basic problems here in terms of affections. First, our sin nature confronts and competes with holy affections every day. It seems to me that we are more and more inclined to tend toward sin than we are concerned with holy living. Secondly, it seems the individual Christian, not to mention the leaders and the church corporately have lost their will to face these problems and implement biblical accountability at the most granular levels.

Paul has provided us with some help. The first point Paul makes is with the phrase, “since you have been raised with Christ.” This verb is in the passive voice, aorist tense which indicates two things: first, the action has already happened. Second, the subject is passive in the action. We “have been raised.” The idea is that we now possess a new status. We were dead in sin, but we are alive unto God. The next phrase is a command: “keep seeking the things above.” This verb is present, active, imperative. This means the action is continuous, the subject (us) should engage in the action, and finally, it is a command. In short, we are commanded to keep on seeking the things above. This is where our affections, desires, and concerns should reside. The next phrase says “set your mind on things above.” J.D.G. Dunn says, “For the sake of emphasis the exhortation is in effect repeated, again in the present tense to denote a sustained effort or perspective (GNB “keep your minds fixed”). Φρονέω means not merely to think but to have a settled way of understanding, to hold an opinion, to maintain an attitude (Rom. 8:5; 14:6; 1 Cor. 13:11; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2, 5; 3:19). The fuller phrase τά τινος φρονεῖν is well known in the sense “take someone’s side, espouse someone’s cause” (BAGD s.v. φρονέω 2). This underscores the point, therefore, that what is commended is not an apocalyptic or mystical preoccupation with the furniture of heaven, as 3:1 could be taken to imply (that might have conceded the ground already contested in 2:18 and 23), but a cast of mind, a settled way of looking at things, a sustained devotion to and enactment of a life cause.”

This phrase reflects a radical change in how the Christian mind works contrasted with that of the unbelieving mind. Paul uses this word as a command in II Cor. 13:11 where he commands the Corinthians to be “like-minded.” The idea is to have one mind. In Phil. 2:5 he says, “Have this attitude which was also in Christ.” Paul explains why he expects the Colossian Christians to behave in this way. He says, “For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” When you hide something, it is now out of sight. You cannot see it any longer. Our life is supposed to be eclipsed by the Son! Is it?

Edwards writes, “Religious sorrow, mourning, and brokenness of heart are also frequently spoken of as a great part of true religion.” Paul says two things about godly sorrow: first, godly sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance. If there is no repentance, there is no godly sorrow. It is a mistake to equate feelings of guilt or shame or sorrow as ipso facto biblical. Godly sorrow produces change. Second, because godly sorrow results in godly repentance, it also results in Christian vindication. What does this mean? It means that when we confront a believer in their sin, they sense the reality of their evil. This is sorrow. That conviction produces true repentance in the mind and life of the believer. This change of behavior in their life vindicates them to the rest of the Christian community that they are in fact a believer. I am not suggesting that this response in immediate. Nevertheless, I am suggesting that it is inevitable. Genuine believers will not persist in rebellion against God. They will repent. What does it look like when a Christian’s affections are in accord with Scripture?

It means they are putting away things like, unlawful sexual behavior, immoral sexual behavior, ungodly desires for things that are not yours, and the desire to have more than one’s due. Paul continues, anger that reaches emotional proportions, angry outbursts like a volcano erupting, malice (which is a strong dislike or feeling of hostility toward someone), speech against someone that is denigrating or defaming in any way or is disrespectful or even backbiting. The word actually means to speak against someone in such a way as to cause actual harm or injury to them. Finally, the believer puts away dirty or obscene speech from their mouth as well as lying.

I am not saying that believers never engage in sin. We engage in some sin every day. The difference is that we are constantly resisting these behaviors and repenting of them. Moreover, we are holding one another accountable for engaging in them because we all understand that the testimony of Christ is far more important than our own self-gratification. When we are confronted with any sin in our lives, our affection for Christ compels us to change. Godly sorrow produces true repentance and change in our lives. That is how we know we are forgiven. When we persist in sin, we demonstrate that our sorrow is not godly. When we have no godly sorrow, repentance does not follow. When repentance does not define our daily lifestyle as a believer, it is a strong indicator that forgiveness of sin has not taken place. The idea is that the old self is dead. The new self is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of Christ.

We have seen how carnal behavior disappears or is minimized when Christian affections dominate our life. Now let’s take a look at what takes the place of these disappearing carnal behaviors. Christians are people who have a heart of compassion. They genuinely care about others and especially one another. Christians are kind toward one another. I know of a group of women who took the initial view about a man that there was something wrong with him because he was divorced. That is unkind and uncompassionate, not to mention malicious and slanderous. Such behavior is foreign to Christ. Christians are humble. They are not exalted with their own accomplishments. Christians are very gentle with one another. They do not smash one another to pieces like someone running for public office. Christians are patient with one another. They are not quick to throw one another under the bus. They know how much they have been forgiven and they try to emulate their heavenly Father. Christians bear with each other’s weaknesses. They do not judge and cast one another aside when sinful weaknesses creep in. Christians are forgiving. We are never more like God than when we forgive one another. Forgiveness is not something you say with your mouth. Forgiveness is followed by a new attitude and a new way of relating to the person. You reconcile and restore. Above all else, Christian affections are dominated by Christian love. Love is not something we feel. Love is something we do. How can you say you love someone when you take almost no interest in his or her life? When fellow believers are in sin, true believers who care about the gospel and who care about another do not hold back from going to that person in love and helping them out of the snare of their own sin. That is true Christian love. Anything else is empty chatter and vain hypocrisy.

Christian affections result in Christian wives submitting to their husbands, Paul says. Christian affections mean that Christian husbands serve their wives in a way that the world thinks is radical. Christian affections change the way Christian fathers relate to and parent their children. Christian slaves change how they see their Masters and understand that their primary goal is to glorify God by being a different “kind” of slave. The Christian slave sees their service to their Master as service to Jesus Christ. Christian Fathers see serving their children as fathers as service to Christ. Christian husbands now view loving and service their wives as central to how they glorify God. Christian wives understand that submission to their husbands is a critical component of preserving the testimony of the gospel. Pleasing God in these ways matters to Christian husbands, wives, parents, and slaves. Does it matter to you? Are you busy trying to identify what you will do differently at this moment or busy excusing yourself for behavior that you know is out of step with Christian affections?

Colossians 3 is one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible on how Christian affections influence Christian living. I suggest you read it at least five times this week and attempt to implement it into your life. What are you doing that you should not be doing and what are you not doing that you should be doing?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homophobia, Choice, and Baptists

I am very happy to see Dr. Mohler clarify his remarks around homophobia. Coming back to my earlier post, the Church, by the standard definition of that word, is institutionalized homophobia. Just in case you didn't realize this, allow me to iillustrate the point further. The minute you exclude a practicing homosexual from church membership or refuse to marry a gay couple because of their homosexual choice, you are, by definition comitting homophobia. Hence, it follows that the way secular culture defines the word, the church is ipso facto guilty of homophobia. Therefore, when Dr. Mohler said we needed to repent of homophobia, I knew he did not intend to say that we need to begin accepting those who make the homosexual choice into our congregations. Anyone who knows Al Mohler knows better than this. Here is a excellent opportunity for a lesson in hermeneutics. You see, the text is not all we have to interpret in this life. We sometimes have to interpret one another. And just as context is important in interpreting the biblical text, it is also important in interpreting one another's statements. The context of Al Mohler's life is antithetical to interpreting him as saying that the homosexual choice is now biblically acceptable.

This being said, I wish I could say that I am entirely satisfied with how Dr. Mohler left things, but I cannot. The interpretation of Dr. Mohler's comment around the homosexual choice remains open and up for grabs. I pray that the men who are closest to Dr. Mohler (Phil Johnson, John MacArthuer, etc) will encourage him to provide clarity around that statement. What does he mean when he says homosexuality is more than just a choice. Moreover, what is the evidence that has compelled Dr. Mohler to change his view if indeed he has changed his view. Perhaps there is more to this statement than we can understand from our vantage point. We should exercise grace and kindness and resist the urge to assume that Dr. Mohler has moved over to the "homosexuality is genetic" side of the argument. That may not be at all what he means. In fact, I doubt that it is. One thing is certain: Dr. Mohler's comment is too vague for anyone to draw a sound conclusion without engaging in considerable speculation at this point. And doing so would be unkind and unfair to a man who has spent decades preaching, proclaiming, and defending the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 24, 2011

McLaren Defends Mohler's Comments on Homosexuality

For the record, Brian McLaren and Al Mohler could not be further apart on the issue of homosexuality. But this is precisely why I wish that Dr. Mohler had made his point differently. This is just one of the unintended consequences that I had hoped could have been avoided.

Dr. Mohler is right to contend that evangelicals should not treat the homosexual choice differently than it does any other sinful choice. The problem is that the homosexual choice is somewhat different in that it demands acceptance from evangelicals. That is the the crux of the problem and it is why many evangelicals have been so adamant and perhaps even rigid in their treatment of the subject. On the one hand, maybe we could do a better job expressing our view that it is no different from adultery or lying or any other sin. On the other hand, these other sins do not have groups representing them lobbying evangelicals to cease and desist when it comes to classifying their behaviors as sin. That is the elephant in the room. Homosexuals don't want to be treated with respect and dignity by evangelicals. They don't even want to be treated with love. What they want is approval. You see, anything less than approval of their chosen lifestyle is, to their way of thinking, unloving, disrespectful, and bigotry. Hence, the hostility between the two groups will remain until those who choose the homosexual lifestyle give up or until evangelicals approve of their choice. Until then, this battle will rage on.

I hope Dr. Mohler will issue some clarifying statements around what he has said. In particular, I hope he explains what he meant by the statement that homosexuality is more than just a choice. I really do not understand what he is getting at with this remark and I don't think I am alone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Biblical Christianity and Homosexuality - Understanding the Hostility (second response to Dr. Mohler)

I think Dr. Mohler was attempting to rebuke a specific sin within the Christian community. Some Christians treat homosexuality differently than they do other sins. Hence, they treat homosexuals differently than they do other unbelievers. This is wrong. A real life example comes to mind. Unbiblical divorce is a perfect example of how Christians do this. If a person came out of the closet to reveal their homosexuality, most evangelical churches would remove their membership and demand repentance. However, if a man or woman divorces their spouse without the grounds of adultery, and nothing happens, or very little happens. We need to see ALL sin the way God sees it. Secondly, I must say that I still find Dr. Mohler's comments that homosexuality is more than a choice somewhat confusing and disturbing. Christians need to approach this debate from a new perspective. There are only two possibilities for homosexual behavior: choice or genetics. Why does secular society insist it is genetic without a shred of scientific support? I contend that most people find the behavior so personally repulsive that they are desperate to find an excuse for why anyone would engage in it. I don't know about you, but if I were gay, I am not sure that strategy would resonate with me so much. However, think about that for a moment. Christians need to force homosexuals to prefer to call it a choice because the excuse of a gay gene is the direct result of a repugnant disposition toward the behavior. Even homosexuals recognize this, although they will not admit it.

Does Christianity make a difference in the various cultures where it exists? If so, what kind of difference does it make? How is biblical Christianity affecting the cultures in which it finds itself? As a professing Christian, what kind of difference are you creating in your culture? What is the “Christian Distinction?” Postmodern philosophy has led to a radical pluralism that threatens the very standards by which Christians are distinguished from non-Christians. Easy believism, the once-saved-always-saved error, and the massive downgrade of Christian doctrine have combined to make it nearly impossible to distinguish Christians from unbelievers. This is nowhere more evident than the contemporary scandal of the Homosexual Distinction or choice as I like to call it. A palpable hostility exists between a distinctly Christian worldview and the worldview of those who classify themselves based on sexual choice. If you have not noticed certain words in this article by now, allow me to point them out and help you understand my tactic. I use the phrase “Christian Distinction” for a very specific reason. I want it to be clear that there is something very distinct, something unique, something very specific about the idea we call “Christian.” I think that point is less obvious in our culture than it was in previous ones. Secondly, I refer to homosexuality as the “Homosexual Distinction” or the “Homosexual Choice.” Christians have allowed themselves to be labeled as homophobes for far too long now. It is time we learn how to use this very same strategy to defend and proclaim the truths of the gospel. We firmly believe that homosexual behavior is a choice. It is not appropriate to allow people to stop at using that term as an identifier as if there is nothing they can do about it. A person who commits adultery is called an adulterer. However, we would never say that this person was born to be an adulterer. We do not look for something in their DNA to excuse their sexual decisions. We know that adultery is wrong. So too is homosexual behavior. It is a choice. Therefore, for people who have decided that this choice should serve to identify them, I think it proper to call it what it is: a distinct choice. Christians ought to refer to homosexuality or the homosexual lifestyle as the “homosexual choice.” By taking this approach, we insist that we will only recognize this behavior as a choice. Moreover, those who are listening to the debate hear us addressing a “choice” as opposed to a “helpless condition.” I think this is critically important. At a minimum, it helps believers engage in the discussion with growing confidence.

The Christian Distinction

The best way to understand and appreciate the obvious hostility between the Christian and the Homosexual communities is to understand what makes the two communities distinct. Understanding that those distinctions reflect antithetical foundations between two vastly different worldviews will help us talk about the issue with greater effectiveness. I use the term “Christian” in its technical sense. That is to say, I specifically refer to the conservative brand of Christianity that is uniquely grounded in Scripture as its sole authority of faith, life, and practice. When professing Christian communities betray Scripture, they cease to be distinctly Christian. They become pseudo Christian communities. In other words, there are genuine Christian communities, and then there are apostates. I offer no apologies for the apostates. Moreover, if being called an apostate offends you, I pray that it offends you enough to produce repentance. Perhaps it would be better to call it the apostate choice.

To be a Christian means something more than attending a gathering of people on Sundays. It means more than volunteering at the rescue mission. It means more than spending an entire Saturday working for some charitable purpose. Christianity is not a social club organized to meet various social needs. Paul outlines the positive features of Christian fruit or virtue in Galatians 5: 22. Christian virtue is made up of biblical love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. James says this about “true religion,” Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit the Orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27) The easiest thing for us to do is help Orphans and widows in their time of need. The hardest thing for us to do is to die to self. There are millions of false-converts in the Christian community who write the check, who do the volunteer work, and rise to the occasion to meet the social need of the day. However, the question is, what do you do with Jesus when he becomes uncomfortable? Too many professing Christians refuse to die to self and to compensate for that, they do more than their part when it comes to social causes. They believe, at least sub-consciously, that this proves they love God. The hypocrites of Jesus’ day did the same thing. Religion was an outward façade. Inwardly, these religious people were full of dead men’s bones. They were liars, vipers who professed to know God, but in their very actions, in the deepest part of their hearts, they denied him. John said this, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but from the world.” (I John 2:15) Paul said, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal. 2:20) In another place, Paul said, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) Paul also expressed this concept to the Corinthians, saying, “or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (I Cor. 3:19-20) Christians, genuinely biblical Christians understand they have lost themselves in Christ. They no longer live to please self. They live to please God. According to Scripture, self and God are antithetical to one another. Self must die in order for God to live within the heart of the Christian. This is the Christian distinction. Sad to say, but this kind of thinking has been lost to many in the Christian community. Perhaps it is time we recover it once more.

The Homosexual Choice

The homosexual choice could not be more incongruous with the Christian distinction. To begin with, I want to start with the question: “can you identify or should you identify people based on their sexual activity or behavior?” It is true that we use terms like heterosexual to describe people who are drawn or attracted to people of the opposite sex while homosexual is used to describe people who are attracted to people of the same sex. I want to begin by challenging this practice from the start. Since when should we identify people based on their sexual behavior? We are all human beings who engage in lots of different behaviors. Some of those behaviors are acceptable while others are not so much. For instance, within the heterosexual group, there are men who are drawn to a promiscuous lifestyle. They will attract as many sexual partners as possible. However, just because men are attracted to the opposite sex is no excuse for unbridled sexual escapades. Even the most liberal in our society condemn such behavior. Take, for example the Weiner case. This man had to resign because his behavior was found to be unacceptable. Yet, he was simply doing what his fleshly impulses desired. Why was he wrong? He was behaving in a manner consistent with his desires for sexual pleasure. How can the same people who argue for the homosexual choice condemn Mr. Weiner’s choice?

How is the homosexual choice different from Mr. Weiner’s own personal desires for his taste in sexual pleasure? I would contend that you could not approve homosexual behavior and condemn Mr. Weiner’s sexual behavior without a violent contradiction in morality. The reason you do not see people in secular society attempting to synthesize these irregularities is that it is not in their interest to do so. Secondly, it seems obvious that such an attempt would end up in embarrassment because there is no way to smooth out the apparent contradictions without looking foolish.

The Scriptures clearly condemn the homosexual choice as wicked behavior the same as it does adultery or any other sexually deviant behavior. Paul states clearly that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God. (I Cor. 6:9) The practice was clearly understood and condemned by Paul to the church at Corinth without qualification. Sex between two people of the same gender is condemned in the NT. Paul condemns the homosexual choice in I Tim. 1:10. In Corinthians, homosexuality is mentioned alongside other behaviors such as, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, drunks, etc. These behaviors are choices that people make. If we are going to accept the homosexual as having genuine faith and a place in the kingdom of God, it follows we must accept everyone else who engages in the other behaviors on this list. That, my friends, would mean an end to the Christian Church. Again, in 1 Tim. 1:10, Paul’s list includes: immoral men, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching. The homosexual choice represents a violent contradiction to the Christian distinction. The Christian community and the homosexual community represent polar opposites at their respective foundations. The very definition of the homosexual choice has at its foundation, a very specific activity driven by the desire to please self by engaging in certain types of sexual behavior. Christianity is about self-denial. It is about denying oneself such pleasures. A single Christian man or woman is not at liberty to bed anyone. In the Christian worldview, sex is reserved for marriage. Christians do not enter relationships, and dispense with the notion of marriage and move in together and engage in unrestrained sex. When that happens, the church acts. People are confronted with their sin and if they truly are Christian, they repent and either marry or cease the behavior. Paul says that each man is to have a wife and each woman is to have a husband to avoid immorality. (I Cor. 7:2) He goes on to say, “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry.” (I Cor. 7:9) Romans one also provides a clear picture of God’s position on the homosexual choice. Paul refers to the homosexual choice as carried out by people that God has turned over to degrading passions, committing indecent acts. (Rom. 1:27)

The Antithesis

The homosexual choice is a selfish, sinful choice that mocks the design of the Creator at a very fundamental level. God created man and woman and the institution of that creation, marriage, serves as the very fabric that holds society together. The attempt to dispute this design is an attempt to contradict the Creator Himself. If Christianity accepts the homosexual choice as a morally acceptable practice, it loses its ability to reject every other sinful practice with any consistency whatever. The floodgates open. Sin ceases to be sin. Without sin, we do not need a Savior. Without a Savior, there is no Church. Hence, the Christian distinction ceases to exist. Part of the problem is the amount of compromise the church has already made. It is difficult to back up a train.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Steve Simon - How many more gay people does God have to create?

This is not unlike the question posed the pony-tailed man at Princeton a few years back when he was silly enough to ask what character had to do with being president. And people thought the question was profund. Of course after an economic meltdown brought on entirely by a lack of character in leadership, we now realize how stupid that question was. Oh, I am sorry: yes, stupid questions do exist. That was one of 'em. And now, today, some 20+ years later, Steven Simon has asked another one. Predictably, this less than critical thinking society initially labels the question, "profound." BONK! I heard about this question from a friend. I could not believe someone was silly enough to even ask it the way he did, let alone hear that it received applause. Folks, when these are the kind of people that are leading our country, we should be very alarmed. So, what should the Christian response be to Mr. Simon? Well, let me say that it is going to be very short one and as far as a debate goes, it is going to be that knock-down, one punch, explosion that will leave Mr. Simon wondering if he should ever say something like this again in public (as if he will read this blog).

The Christian response to Mr. Simon comes in the form of a question. Are you ready? Do you have your pen in hand? Here it is:

Mr. Simon, tell me something sir: how many pedophiles does God have to create before you realize that He wants them here? Or, how many adulterers does God have to create before you realize He wants people to commit adultery? How many liars does God have to make before you realize He wants people to lie? How many murderers does God have to create before you realize that he wants people to commit murder?

That's it folks! That is all the response you need and this "profound" question from Steve Simon now looks pathetic and silly. It looks like the kind of question someone who hasn't bothered to think at all would ask. That is what it looks like. I do not mean to insult Mr. Simon or be particularly nasty to him. I only want to point out what a foolish, foolish question he asked and Christians should be ready to call him on it. After all, he is the one who introduced God into the discussion by charging that God is directly responsible for the homosexual choice.

Christians need to stop pretending that Western Culture does not have an agenda that involves the eradication of any belief that stands in the way of it's narcissistic desires. For several decades now Christians have accepted the false premise that people will genuinely choose to follow Christ if we can just reason with them the right way. If we can just take the right approach, the world will accept Jesus because He is obviously what they are looking for. We just need to help them see it. Wrong! At the very core of the world's hearbeat is a deep-seated hostility and hatred for the God of Scripture even though the image of their Creator remains in place. Unbelievers are natural enemies of Biblical Christianity. There is an impasse between Christianity and the world not terribly unlike the gulf between the rich man in hell and Abraham. Unbelievers have penetrated the Christian community and brought their godless philosophies with them. Because they wore a colar, held the titles of pastor, reverend, or professor, we gave their views unwarranted credibility. And now here we are: not even possessing the ability to critically examine Steve Simon absurb comments about homosexual and cast them to the ash heap of foolishness where they belong. I will be posting an article on the hosility between the Christian and Homosexual communities this week. Keep an eye out for it. In the mean time, I leave you with these words from the Apostle Paul:

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenver your obedience is complete." (II Cor. 10:3-6)

Let us cast out the recalcitrant, the contumacious, the disobedient, and the obstinate should they choose to defy the power of Christ and the authority of HisWord and the role of His Church in holding forth the teachings set forth by the divine Savior Himself and His holy apostles. The day of lukewarm responses cloaked in gracious speech and academic respect has run its course. That practice is partly to blame for the mess we are in to begin with.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Less Stingy Orthodoxy & a Politically Correct God (Bell & Mouw)

What is the gospel? Rob Bell might say, “good question.” What is the church? That is another good question. Why did Jesus Christ enter this world some 2000 years ago? I was reading an article some time ago by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Two themes stood out in that article. The first one was not Dr. Mouw’s apologia of Rob Bell so much. It was his statement that “Rob Bell is calling us away from a stingy orthodoxy to a generous orthodoxy.” Despite his failure to understand Bell’s denial of Hell in his book, Love Wins, Dr. Mouw managed to get to the apparent motive that drove the production of the book. Mouw seems to approve the idea that we move to a more generous orthodoxy. Dr. Mouw goes on to say about Mother Teresa, “Did Mother Teresa go to hell? My guess is that she was a little confused about justification by faith alone. If you think that means she when to hell, I have only one response: shame on you.” Sometimes I wonder just what kind of critical thinking pastors, scholars, and theologians give to some of these positions. I would never accuse Dr. Mouw of not thinking this conclusion through to the end. However, I will come back to this “small” error on justification and the gospel later in this post. Dr. Mouw also makes another point in the article, saying, “Accept Jesus right now, we say, because if ten minutes from now you die without accepting this offer God will punish you forever in the fires of hell. What kind of God are we presenting to that person? This is another excellent demonstration of what Mouw is getting at. What exactly are the new emergent evangelicals trying to do? You do not have to look far to see the culture phenomenon of political correctness and the influence of postmodernism in the views of those who call themselves evangelical today. Is this really the gospel? Moreover, are these emissaries really the church?

Stingy Orthodoxy?

What does Mouw mean by stingy orthodoxy? If he talking about the kind of orthodoxy where legalists, heretic hunters and hypocrites predominate, I agree with him. If he is talking about the church that expends most of its energy, addressing abstract doctrinal constructs and so very little time caring for and loving the sheep, I agree completely. When sound doctrine displaces divine love (if such a thing is even possible), the church ceases to be the church. If Dr. Mouw is talking about the challenge of fostering and building nurturing, Christ-like relationships even in good reformed churches, I agree with him. However, it seems to me that Mouw is talking about more than caring, loving, Christ-like relationships. Based on the preponderance of comments, it seems that Dr. Mouw is talking about both the image of Christianity, the image of God, and the content of the gospel message itself. The point is that some people find this image of God, this image of Christianity (historic orthodoxy), and this message too offensive. The image of Christianity is too exclusive, the image of God is too rigid and harsh, and the message is simply too narrow. The idea is that we need to soften it up a bit, so that society will more readily accept God, Christianity, and the gospel. Now I am sure, when you frame it in this fashion, Dr. Mouw and perhaps Rob Bell may object. Nevertheless, I prefer to keep things simple. As far as I can see, simply put, the way Christianity presents itself, God, and the gospel, according to Mouw, is stingy, biting, and narrow. This approach is remarkably antithetical to how we do things in our culture.

Historic Christian Orthodoxy

Before you experience the anxiety of a survey of the overarching doctrines of traditional Christianity, relax. That is not what I am getting at, at all. In the history of the church, there has always been the theme of exclusivity. Historic Christianity has always excluded unbelievers from its ranks. What would make it different or unique? Exclusivity is not something that is limited to Christianity, religion, or even other aspects of society. Exclusivity shows up in many other places outside of religion. Therefore, I find it odd that Christians have to defend the attacks that we are narrow and exclude people from our communities. This has been the case for centuries. Contrary Bell and Mouw, Historic Christianity has a very long history of exclusive members, beliefs, practices, and an exclusive message.

The Nature of the Gospel

What should we say about the idea that the gospel of Christ should build bridges to create unity among human cultures? Is this really the gospel according to Jesus? Did Peter, James, John, and Paul preach such a gospel? John 3:18 says, “he who does not believe is judged already.” Here Jesus presents the exclusive nature of His message. Believe and you are justified, refuse to believe and you are already under judgment. Jesus said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19) And again, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of my Father.” (Matt. 7:21) About His mission Jesus said this, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Matt. 10:34-35) The first sermon Jesus preached was on repentance. (Matt. 4:17) Repentance and inclusivism are antithetical concepts to one another. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims that everyone who is to be saved must receive Christ by faith. Moreover, everyone who rejects Christ in unbelief stands outside the Christian community and has a hostile disposition toward God. Make no mistake about it; the gospel, by definition is exclusive.

The Nature of God

To begin with, God is not a man. (Num. 23:19) The Lord declares in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts. God is not a man. He is divine. Our problem is that we project ourselves onto God repeatedly. Moreover, this projecting seems to be so pervasive within Christian communities that we have completely lost our sense of the true nature of God. Bavinck writes, “Involved here is a matter of profound religious importance, to which Augustine gave expression as follows: “We are speaking of God. It is any wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend.” [Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Vol. 2, 48.] Historically speaking, the church has always contended that humans know God in two ways: rationally, and relationally. Unbelievers know God rationally. They possess an innate knowledge of God. Paul contends this knowledge renders them culpable for their sinful lifestyle. Believers on the other know God relationally. They possess knowledge of God that comes to them via special revelation, not to mention experience. Nevertheless, the church has always contended that we may apprehend God, we can never comprehend Him. While humans cannot fully comprehend God, we may certain apprehend some things about Him. This apprehension is of course, dependent on special revelation. That is to say that natural theology falls short in its ability to express God. Therefore, our knowledge of God relies on special revelation. God has revealed certain things about Himself through Scripture. This expression is witnessed in the person of Jesus Christ. Outside of Scripture, any understanding of the nature of God is doomed. We understand God’s nature through His expressed revelation in Scripture with the aid of the Holy Spirit working on and in the human mind. Mouw and Bell seem to miss this fundamental point. Rather than accept the type of God revealed in Scripture, both men seem to want to substitute that image for one that is less offensive to a culture that is hyper-sensitive to nearly any view that may make demands of them. Moreover, when they do so, they prefer to call it a “generous orthodoxy.” They liken God to that of human fathers. God is not like a human father. Human fathers are to strive to be like our heavenly father.

The Nature of the Church

The church is an exclusive body of believers that are called out of this world of darkness into the glorious light of the gospel. Jesus said that He would build His church on a rock and the gates of Hell would not prevail against her. The church enjoys a unique relationship with Her Savior. But admittance into the Church comes only as a result of faith in Jesus Christ. Christ has chosen us from out of the world. (John 6:70; 15:6, 19) The entire idea of ‘being chosen’ means that we were chosen from among others. Jesus said I chose you out of the world. This is exclusive language. I chose you, but I did not choose others. Many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14) Jesus said he knew the ones that he had chosen. (John 13:18) Paul said God chose us from the beginning for salvation. (II Thess. 2:13) Peter views believers as those who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. (I Peter 1:2-3) Paul commanded the Corinthian church to remove a dissenter from their midst. (I Cor. 5) In a follow-up letter, he instructed the same church to admit the man once more (II Cor. 2:5-8; 7:8-13) The point is that the Christian community has always included a certain “kind” of person and excluded various “kinds” of people and that makes it, by nature, exclusive. The church, by definition, is an exclusive body with very specific beliefs and a certain set of moral standards by which its members are known. The life of the believer evidences true faith in God by bearing godly fruit, not the least of which is brotherly love. The church is exclusive. It is not the place of leaders in the church to expand the criteria for membership. If the world hated our Christ, why should it surprise us that it hates us also? (John 15:19)

Mouw’s Holiness

While Mouw criticizes others for implying that Mother Teresa may have perished in hades, he holds out hope that justice will forbid others from seeing the eternal life promised by Christ. Dr. Mouw places very bad people on this list of those that he says deserve eternal damnation. These are the Hitler types, and the kind of kidnappers who sell young girls into the sex trade. He refers to these people as becoming inhuman. I find that term very interesting. It is as if one can become inhuman by sinning in certain ways. In other words, being human means being godly. I am not sure Bell and Mouw would take it that far, but there is something to be said about their use of that term in the context of vile sin. So Mouw thinks some people will actually go to hell. It is my view that Bell rejects the idea of a literal hell. I have no other choice but to reach that conclusion based on the language of his book. However, Mouw somehow thinks he is qualified to redefine who gets in and who is out. He does not attempt to provide a rationale for his view. He just offers up his own moral law and expects other to be alright replacing the lists in the NT with one of his own creation. Why should we accept Mouw’s standards as the ones by which men will enter eternal judgment as opposed to those outlined in Scripture?

The letter written by Paul to the church at Galatia contained the very same error that Mother Teresa espoused. It was a terrible misunderstanding of justification. This church was plagued by men who were teaching that Christians had to add works, specifically, the works of the law to faith in Christ in order to find salvation. Jesus + Moses was the right formula if you wanted eternal life. Paul’s response was swift, direct, and sobering: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Now these men did not possess what even Mother Teresa possessed. The Bible was laying around on every shelf. Yet Paul stood strong in opposition to anyone who distorted the gospel by added works as a requirement. No stronger rebuke existed at this time than the one Paul used to rebuke the false teachers at Galatia.

Persecution as Proof of the Offensive Nature of God, the Church, and the Gospel

The world hated Christ so much that it killed Him. In addition, the world murdered the prophets that came before Christ. John the Baptist was the greatest prophet among men and the world killed him. The apostle James was butchered before the church could even get started. Jesus said the world hated Him and it will hate us as well. The unregenerate mind is hostile to God. It is an enemy of God. This explains why persecution has existed since the church was born. Can you imagine what would happen if Mouw, and Bell, and even men like Rick Warren had their way? The attempts to make God, Scripture, and the Church more acceptable runs contrary to everything Christianity stands for. There would be no more persecution if these men had their way. They would change God, His Message, and His Church in whatever way they could in order to take the sting out of their message. But it is precisely that sting that has resulted in millions of souls converted to Christ, and millions giving their life’s blood for the truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.” (Rev. 20:4) Can you imagine some of these leaders actually preaching a message that would get them killed? This message was so hated by men that they were willing to take a human life because of it. Does that sound like anything we hear from emergent, seeker-model, liberal evangelicals today? We do not even love truth enough to watch people leave us, let alone die for the gospel. Pastors will not preach the truth or stand for the truth because their church may fire them or split over some issue. Take the sting out of orthodoxy? Why not take amazing out of grace while your at it? I always tell people; you take the amazing out of grace when you take the wretch out of me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Homophobia, Baptists, and Christianity - A Thought about Al Mohler's Remarks

Homophobia, Baptists, and Christianity

I once had one friend say to me in front of another friend, “so, Ed, what is your position on homosexuality?” The friend who said it was a political conservative, but a social moderate, while the other friend was a liberal. I simply smiled, having no interest in the game he was playing. However, the other friend saw the smile and made this stinging, straightforward remark: “I have a problem with anyone who has a problem with homosexuality.” It seems to me that every generation below the baby boomer generation has increasingly moved away from one of America’s foundational principles: freedom of religion. I find this fact extremely disturbing, and not simply because it reflects a growing ignorance in American culture around the core ideologies of why this nation exists in the first place. It is disturbing because it marks a form of religious oppression that has the real potential to expand into full-blown persecution. Christians in other parts of the world need to understand that America is rapidly moving toward religious intolerance. More specifically, America is moving toward an intolerance of Christianity.

One of my favorite preachers is Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lexington, Ky. Dr. Mohler has come out and urged Baptists to repent of their homophobia. Now, to be sure, Dr. Mohler does not condemn homosexual behavior any less than he did before the statement. To be honest, I find Dr. Mohler’s comments somewhat confusing and just a little disturbing. If by this statement, Dr. Mohler means that we should not treat homosexuals differently than we do anyone else, then I agree. I think that is what he is getting at. However, I think he could have stated it a bit differently. Is homosexual sin different from other sin? Of course not. Lying, stealing, and even unbiblical divorce are on par with homosexual sin. Moreover, it is true that pseudo Christians do treat homosexuality different from these other sins. They condemn homosexuality in the strongest of language, but murder their own brothers and sisters in Christ with their mouths. Dr. Mohler is right in this regard if this is his point.

Dr. Mohler said two things I really wish he had not. Moreover, he created an unintended consequence that I wish was not the case. I wish Dr. Mohler did not say, “We have said to people that homosexuality is just a choice. Well, it’s clear that it’s more than a choice.” This lends fodder to the ungodly contention that homosexuality is beyond the control of the homosexual. Does this statement have anything to commend it from a biblical perspective? Scripture always presents sin as a deliberate choice on the part of rebellious human beings and always commands us to repent. It is one thing to experience a homosexual desire to temptation. It is another to engage in the activity. Moreover, there are people who have left the homosexual lifestyle for reasons other than religion. Not every former homosexual turned heterosexual is an adherent of the gospel. Now, to be sure, the gospel is the only cure for sin. However, human beings shift their sin all the time. Liars reform their lying but continue to sin in other ways. Adulterers cease their adultery from time to time, but continue to sin in other ways. I am not saying that man can escape his sinful nature by his own free will. I am contending that unregenerate humans do have the ability to shift their sinful behavior from time to time. They just continue to sin in other ways. I really, really wish that Dr. Mohler had not said, “We have also exhibited a form of homophobia.”

Homophobia is a very polarizing word that comes with an exceptionally broad definition. First, homosexual supporters use the word to manipulate those who disagree with them. Here is how it works in the real world. Homophobia is identified with immoral people who commit acts of violence or discrimination against homosexuals. They treat a homosexual as if they are a lower form of human being. That behavior is unacceptable in the Christian community. It is true that if a Christian is engaging in such behavior, they need to repent. However, this is not true of most Christians. Once the word homophobia achieved it polarizing stigma, it was then ready to use as a grand weapon of manipulation. Now, you apply the word, not to real homophobes, but to people who simply disagree with the homosexual choice. This is a subtle way to persuading some to accept the lifestyle and quieting others who don’t. The strategy has worked brilliantly. Most Christians are not homophobes. They are simply applying what the Bible teaches about the homosexual choice. The argument is not about homosexual choice as much as it is about the Bible. When we move off that ground and focus on the homosexual choice, we move away from God. The question is, “what does God say about the homosexual choice?”

Now, the unintended consequence is that many will see Mohler’s comments as supportive regardless of whatever else he said. Homosexual advocates will point fingers and say, “even one of your most conservative leaders says you are a bunch of homophobes.” Moreover, this creates a significant distraction from the gospel. We move from the discussion around the sinfulness of homosexual choice to a discussion around whether or not we are homophobes. Unfortunately, that is an unintended consequence. The second problem is that bound up in the definition of homophobia is the idea of discrimination. You are guilty of being a homophobe, to most secular thinking, if treat a homosexual different from others. The Christian community is entirely guilty of this practice. For example, we will not ordain those who engage in homosexual choice to the ministry, the eldership, or even the deaconate. We will not hire a person who engages in the homosexual choice to work in our office or on the church staff. In addition, we will not receive into membership a person who has made the homosexual choice. To the world’s way of thinking, that is discrimination. And that sort of discrimination is ‘ipso facto’ homophobic by definition.

Is homosexuality different from any other sin? Of all other sins that people engage in, I cannot think of one that is actually used as an identifier. If there is an adulterers lobby in Washington, I am unaware of it. I cannot remember a group of liars circulating a petition, insisting that the church pronounce that lying is no longer a sin. When was the last time you saw murders complaining to the church that they are treated differently because they engage in the activity of murder? The reason the church has a problem with the homosexual groups is not because the groups made the homosexual choice. No, that is not it at all. The reason the church has a problem with homosexual groups is because the homosexual groups want to destroy what is, by definition, the church. As far as I know, this is the only group that unites around a common sin that is attempting to do this. The homosexual groups demand that the Church portend to be God and change that which it cannot: God’s classification of the homosexual choice as deviant sexual sin that demands repentance.

Dr. Mohler remains one of my very favorite preachers and theologians. I think I understand where he was going with his remarks. I just wish he had said it differently.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Christian Affections and Their Implications

“Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let everyone fly out of Sodom: Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.” [Edwards, Jonathan. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God] I can’t even begin to imagine what the response would be by the world to a Jonathan Edwards’ sermon today. In addition, I predict the church would have a similar reaction.

There is no question of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favour with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? and wherein lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue which is acceptable in the sight of God? [Edwards, Jonathan. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections]

Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the greatest philosopher who ever lived on American soil. His keen insight into the theological and philosophical complexities of the word of God is unsurpassed by anyone in modern times. For Edwards, the Christian way was more than merely philosophizing or theologizing about abstract concepts in Scripture or life. It was about living a life that reflected the Lord and Master we claim to follow. In short, there were real, life changing implications to being a Christian. The aim of the Christian life in the present time – the goal you are meant to be aiming at once you have come to faith, the goal which is within reach even in the present life, anticipating the final life to come – is the life of fully formed, fully flourishing Christian character. [Wright, N.T. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, 32] However, there are millions of people within the Christian community who are not concerned with their character. This is not to say that Christians are perfect. We are not. However, when Christians conduct their lives in blatant and open disobedience to core Christian principles and clearly stated biblical commands, something is terribly wrong. Moreover, as one surveys the current state of Christian conduct, it is clear that something is seriously wrong. It would seem that there are no detectable implications for claiming to be a Christian in contemporary times. That is to say, there seems to be a lot of affection for claiming to be a Christian and so little affection for the Christ of Christianity. So easily, we cast aside his commandments, from the seminary professor, to the pastor/elder, all the way to the member. We do so with brazen disregard for Christ, for His word, for the sake of His gospel, and for the sake of the church. We simply refuse to consider how our character affects our Savior. The integrity of the gospel message, of Christianity, and of our Christ is at stake. That fact does not even faze us. We lean on God’s grace and goodness, deceiving ourselves into thinking that God is long-suffering, merciful and patient. God is all these things. Then again, genuine Christians NEVER abuse God’s goodness in such a fashion. That kind of thinking and behavior is a sure indication that we need to search our heart and examine our faith. This may demonstrate to us that our faith is not biblical faith after all. It may be more like the faith of demons than the faith of a disciple. There are real implications for being a member of the Christian sect.

This loss of moral character has become so large an issue in our nation (America) that many business schools and medical schools have hurriedly had to reintroduce courses in ethics. However, courses in ethics, even if well taught, are but Band-Aids to those who, in their inner lives, no longer inhabit a moral universe. And that is where the vast number of people in the West are. They have vacated that older moral world. The great majority, two-thirds, say they do not believe in moral absolutes, that moral decisions are a matter of negotiation in each given set of circumstances. [Wells, David. The Courage to be Protestant, 146] The question is; how much of this cultural mindset permeates the Christian community? In addition, if we attempt to claim that it has not, then to what degree has it caused us to become callous to it when we see it in others? When we witness a fellow believer in outright sin, what do we do? What is our reaction? When we sin, what is our reaction? Are we busy making excuses and thanking God for grace or are we desperately seeking repentance and asking for grace so that we may not repeat the sin that so entangles our conscience? Regrettably, a great many professing Christians think so little of their sinful behavior that it moves them not at inch to try to change. Others beat themselves up, put up a false piety and accuse themselves before men and God, but they refuse to change their behavior. For some inexplicable reason, these people think it is enough to inflict self-guilt and shame on themselves and somehow this will appease God who will see their “heart” and how it really wants to change and He will give them a pass. After all, God is a loving, understanding Father. Some Christians think they are struggling against poor character and sin simply because they feel bad when they miss the proverbial mark. The problem is they continue to miss the same mark day in and day out. Moreover, some Christians have taken up open lifestyles that publicly demean Christ through the scandalous ignoring of clearly expressed commandments in Scripture. Some of these people don’t even flinch at the lack of character displayed by their behavior. Others hang their head and cry woe am I but continue in that scandalous lifestyle, all the while clinging to the hope that somehow, God understands and empathizes with their outright wicked rebellion. I am not pointing fingers at all here. We all have moments of rebellion. It is in those moments that we sin. However, the presence of God’s Spirit in the heart of the believer will not allow sinful behavior to continue indefinitely. He will pressure until repentance occurs.

From a positive aspect, Scripture clearly expresses the Christian virtues throughout. Jesus said, “he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) “Conversely, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.” (John 15:2) In fact, Jesus said this: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” If bearing fruit glorifies the Father, then the opposite would mean that failure to bear fruit dishonors the Father. Without addressing the textual variant genesthe in this text, a quote from D.A. Carson helps accentuate the place of Christian character in the claim to Christianity. Carson writes, “We might paraphrase, ‘Bearing fruit is to my Father’s glory, and [thus] you will be my disciples’ – i.e. fruit-bearing is so bound up with genuine discipleship that the one stands by metonymy for the other.” [Carson, D.A. PNTC: Matthew, 519] In other words, being a Christian equals being a fruit-bearing disciple. They are one and the same thing. What is this fruit? For that we turn to Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Someone might ask, how many of these have to be present in order for me to be guilty of bearing the fruit of the Spirit? And the answer is all of them. These are not nine different fruits. These are nine present components of what makes up the fruit of the Spirit. An apple has it’s seed, it’s flesh, is stem, it’s skin, etc. None of these in and of themselves are actually an apple. Corporately speaking, they are the various components of what makes up an apple. These nine traits are what make up the singular “fruit” of the Spirit. What should we do if we discover that components are missing? We should turn to the God of love and mercy and grace and repent, asking Him for forgiveness and petition Him to save us from our sin. He is the greatest of all rescuers. He will never turn away those who come to Him!

Christian character matters. It matters in our relationship to God, to others in the Christian community, to our family, to co-workers, and to the world. It certainly matters to evangelism. God uses the evidence of our lives to generate convicting power in our words with those that we associate daily. They pay attention to your words because your actions are consistent with your message. It is when you disregard those parts of Scripture, compromising your character, that your words become ineffective and even scandalous. The world does not expect perfection, but it will not abide a hypocrite. Why do you do what you do? Only you can answer that question. What is the real reason deep in your heart? And does God’s word on the matter really concern you? If it does, you will do something about it. If you do not do anything about it, then you may feel some guilt, a little shame, but you won’t change a thing. You may say it matters to you, but your actions will betray your real values. It’s funny how that works. We say we love our brother, but every time we have a chance to prove it, we don’t. We say obeying Christ really matters to us, but when someone points out an opportunity to repent of our current situation, we don’t. We ignore those convictions that we sense and continue to embrace and love our sin. However, we do feel a little bad about it and for many of us, that feeling is good enough in our book. After all, God understands why we won’t obey His simple commands. Some of them are just too demanding or, we are just too weak. I just can’t do it Lord. I really, really, really, want to. But the cost is more than my weak, sinful self can pay. Thank you for understanding why my wicked, rebellious heart means more to me than obeying you Lord. You really are a cool God. You love me so much! Thank you Jesus for understanding why Christian character is not something I can concern myself with at this time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rob Bell, Total Depravity, and Post-Mortem Repentance

Rob Bell’s view on eternal punishment and the nature of hell is not a new view. In fact, a fringe element in the early church posited such a view long before Bell came along. Rob Bell fails to tell his readers some very important facts about church history on the subject. Many of these readers have never and will never pick up a book on church history or read anything about historical theology. The truth is that the view Bell apparently espouses in his book was condemned in the strongest of language at the church council in Alexandria, Egypt in 400 and then again in at the synod of Constantinople in 543 [Allison, Gregg. Historical Theology, 705]. Now Rob Bell knows his audience as well as anyone. It would only seem fair that he should provide both sides of the story when going back into church history and parading out men who seemingly agreed with his view, or at a minimum was sympathetic with the idea of at least, raising the question. However, for some reason, Rob Bell does not think his audience is entitled to hear both perspectives from church history so that they can make up their own mind. In fact, if you read Rob’s book and pay attention to his style of writing, he is not raising a question at all. He is arguing for or against a position. For what it’s worth, I am nearing the end of my invectives about Bell’s views. There are two or three more points I think I need to make and it will be on to another subject.

Total Depravity

So how does the biblical doctrine of total depravity destroy Rob Bell’s position that men will eventually repent of their sin, if not in this life, then in the next. First, men will never repent of their sin unless God first opens their hearts and minds to do so. II Cor. 4:4 says, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” Moreover, Jesus said that the unregenerate are not even able to hear His word. (John 8:43) Jesus said that people who are not of God do not hear God’s word. (John 8:47) This is a real problem. Can a person go from ungodly to godly without divine intervention? Jesus said the only way this can happen is for a person to be born of God. (John 1:13) An unregenerate person rejects the things of God. (I Cor. 2:14) Second, repentance itself is actually a gift from God. (II Tim. 2:25) An unregenerate person does not just decide that Jesus is the best choice of all the religions in the world and become a Christian. Christians are born from God, not man. Hence, the nature of man is hostile to God. (Rom. 8:6-8; I Cor. 2:14) Men are evil. The world hates God. (John 15:18) Unregenerate do not decide to follow God. (Romans 3:10-18) The condition of fallen man is utterly hopeless outside of Christ. The Christian religion is not like Islam, Buddhism, or any other religion. People do not simply decide to subscribe to Christianity. They do not simply decide, on their own, to follow Christ. God chooses us to follow Christ. (John 6:70; 15:16, 19) God gives us a new nature. Without this new nature, we would NEVER come to repentance and faith!

By total depravity, I do not mean that man is as utterly wicked as he can be. The great theologian, Robert Dabney says it this way: “We mean, first, that as to the chief responsibility of the soul, to love God, every soul is totally recreant. No natural man has any true love for God as a spiritual, holy true, good, and righteous Sovereign.” [Dabney, R.L. Systematic Theology, 323] Man is not the standard by which true love can be measured. Moreover, the hyper-emotional condition of western culture is by no means a good measure by which we can measure genuine religious affections. That measure is Scripture alone. Yet we live in a culture that is convinced that love is a feeling. Worse, we have Christians who think that if they become warm, emotional, and tear-up during Amazing Grace, this suffices as proof that they really love God. These ideas promote false security and self-deception on a wide scale in the visible church today. Pastors and teachers would do well to remind believers what is meant by love and affection for God according to Scriptural proofs. Men’s souls are, after all, in grave danger.

Post-Mortem Repentance

It seems somewhat unambiguous that Rob Bell believes that hell is a state of loving below God’s intentions to some degree. Since we all do this I am not sure where Bell draws the line between an imperfect believer battling sin and an actual unbeliever living a life defined by rebellion against God. It is hard to say. Bell does not address this. It is also difficult to say what the state of the unbeliever is on the other side of the grave. Bell seems to recoil at any thought of real fire and torment at all, even though he doesn’t quite say so as directly I would like to see him say it. However, he says enough to make such a conclusion altogether reasonable. The problem that total depravity presents Bell is that it takes the selection of Christian followers out of the hands of man and places it in the rightful hands of a Sovereign God. If it is true that God is the one who selects men to salvation, and it is true that God must change man’s nature in order for man to repent, then it begs the question; “why would God wait until someone dies to change their nature if He could change it now?” That makes no sense whatsoever. Given the condition of fallen man, God could wait an eternity for him to repent of his self worship and it would not be enough time. Man needs a miracle.

Another Silly Observation worth Noting

Rob Bell says that God will get what God wants. Moreover, God does not want to be separate from any men for eternity. Therefore, God will eventually reconcile all things to Himself. After all, He is God. Hence, the entire premise is that the reason Love Wins is because God gets what God wants. That is the God of love! That is the God of Scripture. Follow me very close here. Pay particular attention to what I am about to say. If God gets what God wants, then that means God wants men to sin against him NOW. God wants abortions now. God wants rape, murder and oppression now. Bell would answer that men have free will. However, he also believes that freedom will never be lost. Therefore, if that is true, then man may always fall back into sin after enough time. Satan did! I would contend that if Bell is right, then God must be getting exactly what he wants now. Why wait to the end? Why is it that God must wait to get what He wants? Bell does not answer. Why does God get what he wants then and not now? Does not God want us to love one another now? Yes He does. Does God want us to love Christ now? Yes He does. However, we hate him instead. If it is okay for God not to get what God wants right now, today. Why does the argument hold up that God will get exactly that in the end? God gets what God has sovereignly decreed. That decree serves to glorify God and benefit those whom God has chosen from out of a world of wicked sin. The argument that God simply gets what He wants does not hold up given Bell’s logic. This argument just does not ring true with Scripture nor does it comport with simple and plain reason.

Thank God for the love of Christ demonstrated at Calvary. While we were still enemies God directed His love toward us and while we were still sinners he saved us. Only the precious blood of Christ could provide for our redemption.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rob Bell, Predestination, and Eternal Life

In Acts 13:48, Luke makes a very fascinating observation: καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον. This sentence begins with the coordinating conjunction “and.” A literal translation based on the Greek construction goes like this: “and they believed, all those who had been appointed (designated, determined) for eternal life.” In this blog, we will discuss the consequences of rejecting the biblical teaching on predestination in terms of the Rob Bell controversy. If Rob Bell understood this doctrine better, or simply allow Scripture to inform him on this subject as opposed to forcing his humanistic view of God onto the rest of his theological scheme, perhaps he would be in a better position.

The first observation is that this text appears in the historical setting of Paul turning away from the Jews to preach to the Gentiles. What is interesting is that in verse 46, Paul rebukes the Jews, telling them they have judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. What rationale does Paul provide for his supposition? They repudiated the word of God, says Paul. In other words, they refused to believe the gospel that Paul and Barnabas delivered to them. Conversely, the Gentiles believed. What was the dissimilarity between those who believed and those who repudiated the word of God? The contrast is located in verse 48. Hence, Paul introduces the controversial doctrine of predestination. The difference is in the Greek word tetagmenoi. Those who believe do so because God designated, from eternity past, that they will do so.

The Greek word episteusan is in the aorist tense which indicates this act took place at some point in the past. So who believed? The answer to that question is in the phrase osoi hsan tetagmenoi. Literally, he says “all the ones who had been designated.” This word appears eight times in the NT. In Matt. 28:16 it refers to a “mountain which Jesus had designated.” In Luke 7:8 It refers to a man of authority, having soldiers placed under him. It Acts 15:2 it is used to explain that the disciples determined who would accompany Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 22:10 is describes Paul’s ministry which he had been appointed to do. In Acts 28:23 it is used to describe the day that was set when the leaders would come to Paul and engage in dialogue with him concerning the Christian sect. It is clear that this word clearly indicates that this word clearly marks its object. In Acts 13:48 certain Gentiles had been appointed to eternal life and these are the ones who actually believed the gospel. The tense of this participle is also worth noting. This is a Greek perfect tense, which means that the action of determining and selecting these Gentiles to eternal life was completed at some point in the past. Moultmon points out that the perfect tense is “the most important, exegetically, of all the Greek Tenses. When a writer used the perfect tense, he usually had a very deliberate reason for doing so. The perfect tense indicates that the action was brought to completion in the past with the emphasis being on the present state of affairs. The perfect participle, which is what we have in this case, represents antecedent time. This means that God appointed these Gentiles to eternal life prior to an outward expression of faith. This emphasizes the work of God in salvation. This is the very foundation of salvation. God ordains, decrees, determines, chooses, selects whom He will to faith in Christ. If Rob Bell understood and accepted this teaching, he would have extreme difficulty with his view on hell. Who believed? Those whom God had already appointed to eternal life are the ones who believed.

In case you are wondering if this view appears anywhere in Christ’s discourses, the answer is yes it appears in John 6.

John chapter 6 is one of the most interesting chapters in the Bible. First of all, Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (v.44) Now the Greek translated into the English word, “can” means “ability.” In other words, what Jesus literally said is “No one has the ability to come to me…” I completely grant this contradicts the concept of “freewill” which, as a doctrine is so predominant in our society that people take for granted it is valid. After making this statement, a few verses later, Jesus emphasizes his point. In this periscope, John is explaining why some people don’t believe in Jesus and why, in the end, they will crucify him. Moreover, the key to that behavior emerges in the verse we just discussed. Jesus says in v. 64, “But there are some of you who do not believe in me. (For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him). And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” There you have it. Unless God grants a person the ability, they will NOT come to Christ. First, this means that men do not possess an inherent ability to come to Christ and this explains why they don’t. They love their sin! There are no good people in the world that deserve a chance to come to Christ. Such a radically specious understanding dismantles grace. The world hates God and despises His Christ. However, the converse of this is true. Everyone that hears and learns from the Father comes to me. The reason men believe is because they have been chosen. The reason we believe is directly attributable to the fact that we are His sheep. Back in v. 44 Jesus said the ones the Father draws to Christ, He will raise them up. He does not say he might. This means that everyone who has given the ability to come, in the end, comes to Christ. Jesus said in John 10:28, “The reason you do not believe Me is because you are not my sheep.” The Father gives the sheep to the Son. In additional, he does not lose any of them, not even one.

Rob Bell clearly dismisses the idea that God chooses people to salvation. In Rob Bell’s view of salvation, everything depends on man. Man must cooperate with God from the beginning to the end. In Rob Bell’s understanding of the cross, there were no guarantees that anyone would come to God in this life. In that view, the atonement accomplished nothing actually, but only made salvation possible. Everything else would be up to fallen humanity and who knows how that will go. I am glad that Christ, when He died at Calvary, did more than just make my salvation possible. I am glad He took my place and secured my home in heaven for eternity. I am glad that the Father chose me, and place me in the Son’s hand, and that no one take me out of His hand now. I was a God hater and while I was still a God hater, Christ saved me. That is grace!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Ethical Aspect of a Distinctly Christian Epistemology:

Rob Bell and the Knowledge of God

John Calvin, in his Institutes, writes, “On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” [Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book I, i. 2] More than any other Christian theologian in history, we owe John Calvin the greatest debt of clearing the way for a distinctly Christian epistemology. Calvin rightly understood that all knowledge begins with knowledge of God. An erroneous knowledge of God would likely result in an erroneous knowledge of God’s creation, and most assuredly, knowledge of man, or to be more specific, knowledge of ourselves. Hence, it follows that knowledge of oneself can only follow knowledge of God.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the study of how we know. When someone makes a claim that we do not believe, almost to a person the response is, “how do you know that?” When philosophers and theologians ask this question it is much more technical but the principle remains the same. As finite beings, the question that we all must face is how do we know anything? How can we know anything? A being that is not human is responsible for creating human beings! Think of it like this: Adam was not and then he was. By what means would Adam be able to make sense out of anything as a created being. Just as life cannot come from non-life, intelligence cannot come from non-intelligence. How could it? How can something move from non-intelligence to being intelligent? At a minimum, there must be some intelligence within it in order for it to improve upon its own intelligence. Adam was one created being among many. Unless someone told him that a tree was a tree, he could never have known what a tree was. Someone might argue that he arbitrarily identified trees as trees. However, that only begs the question of why he thought it necessary to call it something to begin with. It does not take long for one to recognize that man has a very thorny problem with his claim to knowledge. Hence, it follows that man has a conundrum of massive proportions when he claims to know any facts about reality apart from God. The point of this paragraph is that man is by necessity, a “knowledge dependent” creature. Humans depend on God for their knowledge of all things. Secondly, knowledge of God is a prerequisite for an accurate knowledge of anything else in creation. Finally, man is part of Creation. Hence, it follows that if we have a flawed understanding of God, we will unavoidably have a flawed understanding of man.

All knowledge comes to man via revelation. That is to say, all knowledge is revealed knowledge. Paul wrote, “…that which is known about God is evident to them.”(Rom. 1:19) He then says God’s attributes “have been clearly seen.” (Rom. 1:20) All knowledge man has, he has received from God through nature, to include an implanted innate knowledge. Moreover, God has even been more specific as He has graciously provided us special knowledge through divine revelation. Moreover, Paul concludes that all men are without excuse because God has made Himself know to them. (Rom. 1:20) The fact that we know enough about God to be culpable makes for an interesting response to Rob Bell’s thesis that the traditional understanding of eternal punishment, at its foundation, is unfair. The Apostle Paul would seem to argue here, without ambiguity, that all men are culpable for their actions. Moreover, Paul says that unregenerate men uniformly take an unethical disposition in their knowledge of God. The language here is universal. The most serious indictment in Romans 1 is located in verse 28. This is the ethical constituent of knowledge. Paul says, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind.” (Rom. 1:28) Paul goes on to say that those who practice these things are “worthy of death.” (Rom. 1:32) I wonder how often Rob Bell spends time in his writings commenting on the first chapter of Romans. Paul says that fallen humanity does not honor God as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations. Paul says that humanity has corrupted the image of the true God into one that is vile and reprehensible. Humanity, according to Paul has exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Therefore, according to Paul, God has turned humanity over to degrading passions. Paul’s view of God and Bell’s view of God seems remarkably dissimilar. Hence, it follows that Bell’s description of the human condition and Paul’s description are also remarkably antithetical to one another. While Bell spends a great deal of time on the goodness of humans, Paul spends a great deal of time discussing the depraved nature of the human condition.

Rob Bell repeatedly says in his writings and even in interviews that God is doing something in him and in the world. I am sure someone has asked Rob Bell this question, but I have never heard it and I certainly have not heard Bell’s answer: Rob, how do you know that God is really working in you? Thousands of religious leaders have come along in the past and hundreds in contemporary times claiming that God is working in them also. How can we know that God is working in you? Maybe it is just you working in you. Maybe it is a demon working in you. I am not contending that it is. I am just raising the question. After all, Rob, isn’t that what you like to do most? Jesus did not come to bring questions. The Scriptures were not composed to raise questions. They were composed to provide clear answers.

Rob Bell says that God would not sentence a 17 year old to eternal punishment because the punishment does not fit the crime. He reasons that 17 years of sin should not result in eternal punishment. In the first place, this illustrates the fact that Rob Bell has not come to a biblical understanding of God’s holiness. How does Bell know that this punishment is out of line? What is the basis for his moral judgment that such a sentence would be, well, immoral? How does Bell know what is truly moral and what is not. From where does Bell derive his ethic? How does he know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for 17 years of offending an infinitely holy God? It seems to me that Bell cannot avoid arbitrariness in his reasoning. Bell’s method for knowing God seems to deviate from Scripture. The Romans 1 temptation to exchange the image of God presented in Scripture and even nature is a real temptation for everyone. Bell seems to want to create a new image of God and project that image onto the God Himself. Thus, it follows that Bell’s understanding of God necessarily results in a flawed understanding of sin. How could it be otherwise? If you do not understand the righteous nature of God, then you cannot understand the sinful nature of man. Moreover, failure to understand God’s righteous character unavoidably results in a failure to understand and appreciate the nature of sin. Rob Bell begins with man and works to God. He imposes on God a human understanding of love. This is backwards. He then looks at sin from a sinful, human perspective rather than allowing Scripture to inform his view of sin. This unavoidably causes Bell to belittle sin. However, make no mistake about it: Rob Bell’s entire thesis regarding the nature of eternal punishment begins with a serious flaw in Bell’s epistemology. At the foundation of his method for knowing, Bell leans heavily upon autonomous human reason rather than divine revelation. Anywhere divine revelation creates tension within his reason Bell imposes his own authoritative self on the biblical text. A perfect example is his point of view that the creation account is a poem as opposed to historical narrative. There are no markers in the text to indicate it is anything but a forthright account of the historical beginnings of the universe. Bell uses similar methods throughout his theological grid.

Rob Bell has exchanged the image of God for one that appeases his philosophical presuppositions. He leans on human reason and scientific method as his authority for interpreting Scripture and his epistemological method. As a result, the impact of sin on human reason comes through as Bell reinterprets God, man, and sin to arrive at a very different understanding of the gospel than the one handed down in the Christian community for nearly 2000 years.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When Good Desires Become Sin

I heard a wonderful sermon last Sunday morning about walking by faith and not by sight. The text the pastor employed is Genesis 21:1-21 and it records the story of Isaac’s birth. As is often the case with me, my mind is inclined to wonder during the sermon, especially when the speaker strikes a chord that is close to home. As I sat there, I pondered what it must feel like for a woman who desperately wants a child but is not able to have one. I Immediately thought about God’s sovereignty and His power. From a rational standpoint, my Calvinistic theology argued for complete surrender and submission to God’s decree. After all, this is what any good Calvinistic theologian would think. Moreover, just in case you are wondering, make no mistake about it, I are one. However, there is another side to human beings that we must not ignore. What is more, that attribute of human beings drives more decisions and behavior than any other single aspect of human nature. That facet is the emotional facet. Moreover, that component is usually the component that wins out when it comes to human behavior. Unfortunately, most people think emotions are neutral. Even Christians believe that their feelings are somehow neutral or amoral. When I say neutral, I mean from a moral or ethical standpoint. They are what they are, some would say. “I cannot ignore how I feel, can I?” is often a response from people who are attempting to justify actions or patterns of thought that are almost certainly out of bounds with Christian ethics or principles. This lets people off the hook when it comes to being responsible for actively managing how we feel about things. However, as believers, we are never off the hook for our behavior when it comes to God. God has something to say about how we behave, and how we feel about things, to include other people. We know this because God has commanded humans to love Him with all their being.

Good Desires

Is there anything wrong with a woman or man or a couple desiring a child? Of course the answer to that question is, certainly not. Is it a sin for a man to want a good job in order to provide for his family? Is it wrong for a young woman to long for a companion to spend time with, to love, to converse with, etc.? Most people would say that there is nothing wrong with these desires. I wholeheartedly agree. These are good desires. There is nothing wrong with wanting a child, a job, or a spouse. In fact, these desires reflect the nature of God in us. God created children and as such, He desired them. God also desires community and we see that in the Trinity. Finally, God cares for and provides for those whom He loves. Hence, it follows that these desires are actually godly desires. So how does a desire go from being good, worthy, noble, and even godly, to being sinful? That is an excellent question, and I for one am glad you asked it. 

When Good Desires Become Sin

It is obvious that certain desires are intrinsically evil. For example, if a woman desires to replace her husband with the more attractive male co-worker, such a thought is immoral. If a man wishes to exchange his 45-year-old, wife for a 25-year-old model for any reason, that kind of thinking and behavior is reprehensible. This seems easy enough for those of us who have been around for a while in the Christian community. Oddly enough, however, we may need to reiterate these truths given the cultural conditions we live in. However, how is it possible that a good desire can actually become a sinful behavior on my part? Robert Jones writes, “A desire can also become sinful when it is inordinate or selfish. In other words, it is possible to desire a good or legitimate thing object too much.” [Jones, Robert D. Uprooting Anger. 51]The basic problem here is that we refuse to accept God’s sovereignty in our lives. The influence of Western culture has caused us to adopt a way of thinking that is distinctly unchristian. We have convinced ourselves that the truth that God has our best interests at heart translates into God having the same interests for our lives that we have. Nothing could be further from the truth. In other words, we want to feel happy, secure, pleased with all aspects of our work life, family life, church life, etc. However, in order for us to arrive at that state of pleasure, things have to go a certain way. They have to look like we want them to look or we become dissatisfied. In addition, here is the real rub. We take that projection, that picture we paint, the one that will make us happy, and we interpose God into it. Hence, what is our desire we actually impose on God and our wishes for us become God’s wishes for us. However, sometimes, God’s work in our lives involves lessons we would rather not learn. God is not interested in our comfort. He is not interested in our happiness. God is interested in transforming us into the image of Christ and sometimes that means just the opposite of what we would think should happen in life.

James 4:1-3 says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend It on your pleasures.”

What is the cause of our tensions? James clearly says the source is our pleasures. What does he mean? The Greek word translated pleasure in this case is hdonh (hedone) and it means “state or condition of experiencing pleasure for any reason, delight, enjoyment, pleasantness.” It appears in Luke 8:14; Titus 3:3; twice here, and 2 Peter 2:13. These pleasures can choke the word out of a person’s life. How does that happen? What does that look like? Choking the word of God out of a person’s life looks like a person who chooses to refuse or reject God’s command in Scripture in preference for that from which they will derive pleasure. In other words, taking up a desire that rejects God’s will is a way to choke out God’s word from one’s life. You end up doing your will rather than God’s will.

When your desire for something moves from a desire to a demand, you are in danger of realizing what might be a good desire turn into sinful behavior. Your refusal to accept the circumstances for what they are can drive you to ignore God’s sovereign control in your life. God has painted the picture of your life from beginning to end before you were every born. You must accept the circumstances that come your way as ordained by your Lord and Master and avoid the temptation to reject Him. If God brought you a wife, He did not intend for you to dismiss her because she no longer makes you happy or pleases you in some way. If you cannot bear children, that is God’s doing. Do not allow your desire to create evil thoughts in your mind about God’s love for you. God may have a different plan for your life. Your challenge is to align your desires with God’s plan. Our challenge is to submit our will to God’s will and plan for our lives. That is what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian means more than reading a book, attending a service every week, writing a check, and serving in some way. It is much more than that.

Your challenge and mine is to respond to God’s plan appropriately, as believers. We must learn to accept the path God has placed us on and ask the question, how can I best glorify God in my circumstance? For the answer to that question, we turn to his word. He that is of God hears, listens to, obeys God’s word. He that does not hear God’s word is not of God. If you are married and having trouble deriving pleasure in your marriage, your response is to love your spouse, not divorce them. Genuine faith demonstrates itself in real, every day, practical love. You examine yourself and respond according to the teachings of Christ. For the genuine believer, there is no other way. Regardless of what contemporary culture is doing, Christians do what Scripture teaches. They subject their desires to God’s plan for their life. They acknowledge He is sovereign in all things and attempt to respond to that plan based on His revealed will in Scripture. Moreover, when true believers understand they have taken up a life that displeases God, that dishonors his word, they turn away from it. They abandon their sinful desires and submit to God realizing that His way is the only true way of experiencing real joy and peace in this life. When confronted with sinful desires and lifestyles, genuine believers repent. Unbelievers double down as one ministry put it. They dig in and end up adding more sin to their existing sin. May we all pray that God would gracious grant each of us the gift of repentance so that our lives would show continual transformation to the life of Christ!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why is Hell Eternal?

Is his book Rob Bell puts forth a few theories about the nature of hell that he hopes evangelicals will adopt. He postulates the idea that hell is being in a condition other than that which God desires. In other words, if you are living in hate, you are living in hell because you are not experiencing the joy of God that comes from living without hate. Nowhere in Scripture is hell described in this way however, but that doesn’t seem to get in Bell’s way of defining it in this fashion. Secondly, Bell contends that everyone will eventually escape this hell. God’s love, in the end, will win out. I say this even though Bell seemingly vacillates on this suggestion at least at one point in his point in his book. Bell contends that all things being reconciled to God means that even the most rancid sinners will always have an opportunity for redemption, if not in this life, but perhaps in the next. Bell does not describe what this after-life of the God-hater looks like. He just contends that it is not how orthodoxy has defined it for the last 2,000 years. It is something different.

Why does Bell think this way? He argues that God is love and that a loving God would never punish temporary faults and sins with eternal torment. That punishment just does seem to fit the crime according to Bell. At first glance, that argument seems to make a whole lot of since. Moreover, I would surmise that a great many young evangelicals are at least, stopped dead in their tracks by this reasoning. Now how did we get here you ask. It all began when we did not take the argument that doctrine doesn’t matter important enough. People who responded vociferously against that position were marginalized and even polarized as being overly negative and highly critical people. Hence, it was their negative personality. That was really causing them to respond this way and not the actual teachings of Scripture. I am sure you have heard it before if you have ever dared to disagree with someone on doctrine. They engage in the worse sort of back-handed manipulation. In other words, in order to manipulate YOU, they begin by accusing you of being a manipulator. If you are a decent, God-fearing Christian, you WILL pause and second-guess your real motives for taking up that position. At any rate, when we bought into the idea that doctrine does not matter, a postmodern suggestion at minimum, we opened the door to the kind of non-sense that is creeping into evangelicalism day after day. This is why movements like the seeker-sensitive movement and the emergent church manage to thrive in the visible Christian community.

I could go through and provide a detailed exegesis of all the passages in Scripture that prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that hell is eternal. However, such an endeavor would risk becoming a dissertation. Having completed a dissertation last year, I am in no hurry to write another one: at least not yet anyways. Rather than do that, I am going to argue that hell must be eternal because of the nature of God. This is exactly what Bell attempts to do. However, I will show that Bell redefines “love” and proceeds from there. It is my aim that you will see that I do not redefine anything and allow the self-revelation of God’s character in Scripture speak for itself. And based on that character alone, it is easy to understand why hell must be eternal.

It misunderstands God’s holiness

What does it mean to be holy? That is one question and it is a good one. I would that our preachers were talking more about holiness these days. I recently read that Rick Warren bragged about teaching a 12-week course on sanctification without using THAT word one time. Well, what is wrong with THAT word anyways? Jesus and the disciples used it. In fact, Jesus prayed that his word would sanctify his disciples. Secondly, what does it mean for God to be holy? That is another interesting question. I noticed that Bell spent no time discussing the holiness of God in his book, “Love Wins.” Maybe I should write a book called, “Holiness Wins,” or “Justice Wins.” Bell’s definition of God’s love wrongly removes that divine love from the context of divine justice. God is not simply love. He is also just! God is not more loving than He is just and He isn’t more just than He is love. He is eternally and infinitely just and loving. Anytime we place one attribute above another attribute of God, we are looking at God like He is a man. What God is, He is infinitely, immeasurably. This means that no one divine attribute is greater in any degree than any other attribute. God’s justice is without end just as much as His love. Hence, Bell’s argument introduces a naïve dualism within God, excluding justice from love and love from justice or by redefining both by failing to understand either one.

What do we mean when we say that God is holy? Robert Reymond says, “God is also ethically distinct from sinful men. And as we have already noted, the Scriptures employ the same word groups that it uses to describe his majestic holiness to attest to his ethical holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).” [Reymond, Robert. Systematic Theology. 195] The liberal thinker has a great tendency to compromise God’s transcendence in an attempt to emphasize His immanence. Both must be kept in proper perspective if one is to avoid injury to the divine nature. When we talk about God’s righteousness or His holiness, we speak of His moral excellence as well as the rectitude of his conduct. We know God is perfectly good in every way. He is morally excellent. He is infinitely good and right. We are not. His moral excellence transcends man in every way. God standards, His laws, His regulations are good, and right and perfect. As Lord, He has perfect right to be obeyed. Everything God does is righteous. His deeds reflect the nature of a being that is infinitely and eternally and immutably pure in every way. When Bell fails to acknowledge God’s righteous character in this way by redefining love on human terms instead of biblical ones, he impugns the righteous nature of a holy God. Moreover, as one will see, he downgrades divine love as well. If there is anything Bell would want to avoid, it is that. Nevertheless, it is unavoidably the case that when you do anything to diminish God’s holiness, you also detract from His love as well. God is holy!

It belittles sin

Bell’s refusal to permit balance between divine holiness and divine love regrettably belittles sin and elevates man. Not only does it ignore the noetic effect of sin on human nature, it belittles sin as an offense to a holy God. After all, if God really isn’t THAT holy, then offending Him is not THAT big of a deal. What happened to Satan when he revolted against God? How long did that revolt take? It was one act of rebellion. And Satan is still paying the price for it. Why didn’t Christ pay the price for the fallen angels? If God is like Bell says he is and love is as Bell defines it, then the fallen angels should get a second chance as well. They should have had their sins expiated at the cross the same way we did. I mean, isn’t that love? Wouldn’t a loving God, the kind of God that Bell describes, extend forgiveness in time to Satan? The hard truth is that none of us understand why God chose to redeem anyone. It is an act of love and grace that exceeds our greatest ability to understand. The proper question is not, “why do people go to hell?” The proper question is, “why does God save anyone?” It is only when we ask that question that we are beginning to understand the gravity of sin. Sin is an act of autonomy on the part of a being that was created and is totally dependent on its creator for everything it is and has. It is the greatest evil that man can engage in and it is at the root of all sin. Every sinful act is an attempt to live independent from God. It is an attempt to break away and serve oneself. It is an attempt, to one degree or another, to be God. There is nothing more evil than to claim, either in your actions or with your mouth, to be God. Every sin is a claim, at that moment in time, for that instance, in that area of your life, to be God. Partial submission to God is not submission at all. Partial acknowledgement of God is not acknowledge of God at all. This is why Jesus called it, “dying to self.” It is why Paul said, “I die daily.” Sin is an act of revolt against a God who is perfectly just, perfectly righteous, and perfectly loving. There is no more horrendous act that one can commit than to sin against God. And we have so marginalized it that it has become one of the things we do with the greatest of ease and in the name of grace, without any remorse or sorrow whatsoever. Jesus said it is better for you to pluck out your eyeball than to sin with it. That is how bad sin is. Bell simply shows no appreciation for the evil that sin really is when committed against the God of Scripture.

It fails to apprehend God’s infinite justice

God is infinitely holy. Sin is the greatest offense that could ever be committed against an infinitely holy God. Since God is infinitely holy, His justice is also infinite. And because of that, sin must be punished. An infinitely holy God must punish sin infinitely. This is unavoidable. How could an infinitely offended God extend punishment on man for his sin in a temporally? In order to satisfy his infinite justice, punishment for sin must continue infinitely. We have no problem with a judge who issues the death penalty for someone guilty of first-degree murder. Conversely, we scream when a rapist gets 6 months. Crimes committed against an eternal God demand eternal punishment. Now, that being said, what does this say about God’s love? That God would extend His love to us, send Christ to pay the infinite price in our place so that we would not have to suffer eternally, can now begin to be appreciated, at least to a small degree. Can you see what happens when you see God’s righteousness in its proper perspective and human sin in its proper light, what happens to divine love? It is elevated beyond the peaks!

Sadly, Bell, by engaging in this gyration of definitions between holiness and love as he does, actually commits a tragic disservice to both. He detracts from God’s righteousness, belittles human sin, and the one thing he wishes to elevate, is tragically downgraded to the lowest levels.

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